New Year's Eve - Sofia Vergara and Katherine Heigl
New Year's Eve - Chef Ava (Sofia Vergara) and her boss Laura (Katherine Heigl) are a couple of tomatoes who are busting out all over © 2011 New Line Productions

As a generic and lowest-common-denominator comedy, New Year’s Eve only had to be the movie equivalent of a junk-food Twinkie to meet the minimum requirements of your basic fantasy-factory love snack. But this followup to 2010’s vapid Valentine’s Day is more like a styrofoam surrogate: artificial, flavorless, hollow and hard to swallow.

Director/producer Garry Marshall and screenwriter Katherine Fugate return with another group of loosely connected stories that have all the emotional depth and Rabelaisian wit of a bad Love Boat episode, taking place this go-round on a Manhattan-centered New Year’s Eve. Although there are so many concurrent vignettes that each gets little screen time, all of them somehow manage to feel too long.

Michelle Pfeiffer embarrasses herself as an overactingly fidgety spinster whose bucket list wishes are fulfilled — for a price — by studly young bicycle messenger Zac Efron. Hers is the most hard-to-watch performance in a movie full of what-were-they-thinking cast members. And that’s saying a lot, considering that even the once respectable Robert De Niro is on hand in a ridiculous role that makes one wonder if he simply takes every part offered to him these days. Completely harshing the movie’s silly love saps vibe, De Niro plays a grizzled terminal cancer patient hoping to live long enough to see the 2012 ball drop. Halle Berry is his nurse, whose New Year plans involve a patronizing support-our-troops Skype session.

Rock star Jensen (Jon Bon Jovi) and backup singer Elise (Lea Michele) perform amid a sea of product-placement impressions © 2011 New Line Productions

Abigail Breslin is a mother-smothered teen who wants to get her first kiss at midnight in Times Square. Lifting her shirt in public, she mortifies her overprotective single mom (Sarah Jessica Parker) by delivering the deathless line, “I’m 15, and this is not a training bra!” Paging Roman Polanski!

Ashton Kutcher and Glee‘s Lea Michele get stuck in an elevator. Jessica Biel and Saturday Night Live‘s Seth Meyers are expectant parents in competition with another couple (Sarah Paulson and Til Schweiger) to win a hospital’s New Year’s baby cash prize. Josh Duhamel wants to make a midnight rendezvous with a mystery woman he met exactly one year ago.

Hilary Swank is the skittishly nervous woman-child administrator in charge of getting the 2012 ball to drop on time, Chris “Ludacris” Bridges is a cool-as-ice cop and Hector Elizondo is the eccentric technician called in to save the day… or night, as it were.

The most annoying plot involves Jon Bon Jovi as a rock star named Jensen who wants a second chance with his bitchily resentful former fiancee Laura (Katherine Heigl). Party-caterer Laura’s chef — and Jensen super-fan — Ava (Sofia Vergara) is so broadly dumb-bunny ditzy that her character is an insult to women, Hispanics and humanity in general. When Heigl and Vergara appear together in trashy evening gowns, one that’s sausage-casing confining and the other plunging-neckline naughty, it’s like an onscreen duel of the D-cups.

The movie as a whole is so aggravatingly fake that not even the weather is believable — nobody appears even slightly chilly on what should be a freezing night. Product-placement-wise, the name of a certain company is seen so many hundreds of times that the film should have been titled Nivea’s Year Eve. And in the very last scene, half the screen is taken up by a building-tall ad for Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows, which debuts a week after this movie opens.

This awful acquaintance should be forgot.

(Just a half star!)

New Year’s Eve gets its theatrical release on Friday December 9, 2011

James Dawson

Jim is Film Review Online's Los Angeles based reviewer. More by James Dawson